I used to be shy about eating vegetarian when someone questioned me about it; I was so worried about making the other person feel ‘ok’ and ‘not-judged’ with my answer that I’d shrug it off and mumble something about “I just don’t eat meat. I never really liked it, even as a kid. Except, you know, my grandma’s fried chicken.” (Looking back, let’s be honest, I didn’t actually like the chicken, I just liked the fried and the mashed potatoes that came with it.)
But lately, I’ve discovered that curiosity, discussion, disagreement and dissent play vital roles in authentic living. So I’m more willing to speak truthfully and actually share my opinion and my reasoning for eating vegetarian.
Satya is the second of the ethical considerations (yamas) of Yoga Philosophy. (We talked about it last week, too. Read it here.) Practicing satya is standing in our own truth and aligning what we say, think and do.
Eating vegetarian is one way that I embrace satya and practice ahimsa (non-harming and compassion to all living beings) which is the basis of my ethical and spiritual life. I’m actually totally and completely passionate about animal rights; and totally and completely obsessed with creating peace on Earth. And yet, when someone asked the question, “Oh, how come you don’t eat meat?” I felt scared to share my True Self and talk about what matters to me. But here’s the thing: NOT sharing actually made me feel disconnected and a little bit lonely, it made me feel insincere.
My favorite author and spiritual soul-sister Brene Brown writes about Satya and Integrity in the form of True Belonging in her newest book Braving the Wilderness.
She writes, “when we don’t risk standing on our own and speaking out… we perpetuate our own disconnection and loneliness. [However] when we are willing to risk venturing into the wilderness, and even become our own wilderness, we feel the deepest connection to our true self and to what matters the most.”
Satya, truthfulness and integrity, holds a newly appointed and important position in my life as I try to be authentic to myself and also to connect with people on a meaningful level.Satya now means holding honest conversations about things that matter to me and that reflect my deepest values, as opposed to glossing over these tough conversations.
How can Satya motivate you to live more authentically? Where in your life do your actions not align with your words and thoughts? How can you connect more deeply to your true self?
I get about 50 gazillon junk e-mails, promo mailings and annoying calls a week now that I own a small business, all of them trying to tell me how much I NEED to advertise with them or offer their product or sell their junk. The impetus to sell more and use CAPS! And promote THIS! And ADVERTISE with US! (for free, after I invest $172) is insatiable and it is WAY out of line with my integrity.
This icky, growly, stay-away-from-me-response bubbles up when I start listening to voices that promote scarcity and sagely explain why my worthiness depends on Facebook Ads and staying relevant on omniscient Instagram. No experience has led me more to refining my integrity and drawing boundaries to stay within my integrity than registering an LLC.
Satya is the second of the ethical considerations of the yoga philosophy. There are five ethical considerations given in the Yoga Sutras which guide our social and communal actions. These are called yamas and we examined the cornerstone, ahimsa (non-harming and compassion) in previous posts.
Satya is defined as Truthfulness and Integrity. It is the impetus for aligning our thoughts, words and actions so that we are effective and living with sincerity. It’s the opposite of living a false or shallow life where we say one thing… and then do another. I love what writer and researcher Brené Brown says about satya because she takes it one step further from just ‘telling the truth’ to ‘living our truth.’ She says that truth telling is integral to upholding integrity and that it also takes courage. She writes,
“Integrity is choosing courage over comfort, choosing what is right over what is fun, fast or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.”
One of my values is living a life of simplicity and generosity. So when I am bombarded with messages telling me to DO MORE and BE MORE to BE MORE WORTHY, the pit of my stomach fills with molten hot revulsion. It’s difficult not to give in to messages and ideas that seem culturally customary; my boundaries are often affronted and I find myself fearful, but then I get on my yoga mat and meditate and my courage is bolstered.
I remember that choosing courage over comfort is part of living satya and that whenever I am in line with my highest Good, which is always Light and Love, then I’m living a meaningful life. And I just say “No, thanks” to every bogus e-mail that comes my way.
When are you living in integrity with your highest good? When do you find your words saying one thing and your actions saying the opposite? In contrast, when do you feel most aligned, truthful and sincere?
“By abiding in truthfulness, one’s words and actions are subservient to truth and thus whatever is said or done bears the fruit of sincerity.”
You’ve seen marmots, right? I mean, besides holding the title of cutest rodent name, they truly are the cutest. Their little noses never stop sniffing, they bounce down trails like plink-o balls and they steal smelly hiking shoes for snacks. Adorable, svelt, glamorously silver and long legged. I want to share snacks and stories and sunbathe with marmots.
But omygosh did you know you can kill a little furry creature by sharing trail snacks? Consuming human snacks (on purpose or inadvertently) disturbs the natural cycle of sustenance and wild ecology so deeply that one cheeze-it can kill a marmot.
I was recently reminded of the power of ahimsa (non-harming) during my two week camping trip in the Canadian National Parks. These landscapes are breathtakingly momentous and magnificent. They are pristine; hundreds of miles of wild forests and mountains and waterways are preserved perfectly.
And because Parks Canada treasures their wildlife so deeply, campers are continuously reminded how damaging it is to feed furry critters. I’m an animal lover. My first instinct is to call and cajole and cuddle them… even the ones with sharp little teeth. So I had to pay careful attention to all my actions: I couldn’t and shouldn’t just do whatever I wanted, which mostly consisted of having high tea with marmots and sharing chocolate with bears. I needed to appraise my actions from the viewpoint of ahmisa first.
Ahimsa, which means compassion and non-harming, is the first of the yamas (ethical considerations of yoga, discussed in previous post) and is the cornerstone by which we build and measure all of our actions. Our marmots, our snacks and our yoga practice are all connected.
We learn ahimsa on our yoga mat when we pay attention to the intimate connection of our breath and our emotions and practice in a way that is laced with gentleness and compassion. The more we practice yoga, the more obvious it becomes: we are SO connected with other living beings. And our actions are extremely important because we are a microcosm of the macrocosm.
Deepak Chopra says it so perfectly:
“If you recognize your individuality is intimately woven into the fabric of life—that you are a strand in the web of life—you lose the ability to act in ways that are harmful to others. Acting from this level of your soul, you are incapable of being violent because your whole being is established in peace.”
And that is how yoga changes the world. We LOSE the ability to act in harmful ways. We are INCAPABLE of violence because we are established in peace in our hearts and truly, honestly, want to choose compassion in each and every way. Take your next breath and notice: you are sharing this breath with millons and gazillions of other sentient beings and you are one amazingly awesome strand in the web.
Go establish peace amongst yourselves and your marmot friends.
My Ironman AND my parents were out of town, my private client cancelled last minute and my dinner plans with girlfriends fell through. I had zero plans after 12:15 pm. On a Saturday.
Immediately, my brain started its persistent forecasting, planning and scheduling: I should call Katie and see if she wants to hang out, and if that doesn’t work I’ll invite her to brunch tomorrow, and if that doesn’t work I’ll just show up at her work and beg to take her to coffee… and if that doesn’t work I’ll put an ad on Craig’s List for someone to PLEASE hang out with me and distract me from all that is going on in my life/brain/heart these days. And also..I have a HUGE e-mail list and housework list and gardening list that I should tackle.
Instead, I sat on my back porch, ate hummus and listened to squirrel chatter. I did nothing.
It was glorious. For about 8.3 minutes; then I was ambushed by an undeniable-pee-your-pants-urge to do something and be ultra-productive.
The idea of Spaciousness (‘kha’ in Sanskrit) is a valuable idea in Yoga Philosophy. As we’ve learned in the recent two posts, ‘kha’ denotes the spaciousness and the quality of the heart/mind (citta) and determines how we interact with experiences in our daily lives. When we feel like our minds are spacious, we feel free. When we feel like our minds/agendas/brains are crowded with ‘too-much’ and ‘you-need-to’ we feel confined, trapped, overwhelmed.
I like the idea that Spaciousness can be appreciated in three ways: Time, Form and Soul.
Space in Time is a gap between activities, agendas and to-do-list items. It’s a vacation from the incessant need to be efficient and put-together and follow-all-the-rules. Time Space is priceless because it doesn’t happen all that often in my life, during which I yearn for space to rest but instead fill up my hours with appointments and classes and clients and laundry and e-mails. Time Space for me is permission to sit still and withdraw from my addiction to efficiency.
Space in Form is that unbelievable feeling of sprinting into a spacious field, flinging my arms wide open like a nut-case and breathing BIG into the uncluttered world that holds me. It’s why I YEARN to be in the mountains every summer and why I will endure 10 hours of hiking to get to the top of a 14er in Colorado. It’s why I MUST, for my own sanity, get out of Westport and into trees and on the trails weekly. Space in Form is necessary for my survival, I think.
Space in Soul is, literally, my mental salvation. It is freedom FROM. It’s learning to listen to my Inner Voice that says: Um, maybe don’t be so stressed about this, Lis, it’s probably not a big deal. At all. (It is, usually, never a big deal.) Soul Space for me is freedom from having to re-act with defensiveness or insecurity when someone criticizes me or what I choose to share on the omniscient inter-web. Soul Space for me is freedom from judging and disapproval when I look in the (fun-house) mirrors at Westport Yoga and instead just being glad that I even remembered to take a shower and put on my shirt right-side-out. Soul Space for me is learning to celebrate other yoga teachers and yoga studios instead of feeling jealous or inadequate. Basically, it’s freedom from having to react from fear because that’s what I’ve been conditioned to do and instead being free to respond from a place of worthiness and love. Oh, that is a sweet, sweet space.
I’d like you to take 5 minutes of quiet time and think about appreciating space in 3 different ways:
Time, Form and Soul. How do these qualities of space (kha) show up in your life? How can you make more spaciousness, more sweet space (sukha) in your day today?
“True space is encountered only with the willingness and courage to experience things just as they are.” -GM
‘Waiting’ (i.e. thinking and worrying and meditating and worrying and praying for days) is generally how I operate.
It’s how I make big decisions and small decisions. It’s how ensure that I am living a life of integrity and not a life of greed or compulsion or defensiveness or (god-forbid) absurdity. Waiting is how I make Soul Space, a place for sweetness and relief, for intuition; a place for sukha.
Soul Space is something most of us are missing in our lives.
Why? Because making Soul Space is demanding and messy and uncomfortable and requires just about as much patience as putting a buttoned-down Christmas sweater on a llama.
What I discovered about Soul Space during my very big emotional inhale the past few months, was that it required me to wrestle with suffering (duhkha) and stop waitingaround for my Present Moment to be a magical unicorn-rainbow-puppy parade. Instead, I needed to start making my Present Moment as free as possible given the present circumstances (with puppies, sans unicorns, naturally).
The head/heart/Soul space (in Sanskrit ‘kha’) I lived in last spring was far from inner contentment. It was grieving and frightened and nervous and doubtful and overwhelmingly stressed. I didn’t write about it ‘real-time’ because living it ‘real-time’ was enough; but here’s what happened:
I quit teaching at my home Ashtanga Studio, the place where I launched my yoga teaching career in Kansas City, learned to structure my life around the discipline of yoga and even met my husband. (Sad, but not overwhelmingly so.)
I purchased Westport Yoga, the place where I transformed from a good yoga teacher into a great yoga teacher, learned how to be a leader in the industry and delighted in the invaluable mentoring of my boss Kate who taught me to lead with integrity, creativity and wisdom. (Exuberant, almost overwhelmingly so.)
Two days after the deal closed, as I was still wrapping my mind around the 11-day whirlwind of legal crises, bank accounts and paperwork required to purchase Westport Yoga, my mentor, colleague and dear friend took her own life. After decades of battling bi-polar disorder and depression, Kate’s decision was not unexpected but it was still extremely, horribly shocking. (Devastating, decidedly overwhelmingly so.)
Within me clashed momentous emotions: shock, devastation, excitement, determination, grief, anger, disbelief, anguish… duhkha. Immense suffering.
I did what any sensible person would do: I shut down my Soul Space, repressed a whole lot of emotion, turned into an efficiency robot and disconnected from any hope of grace.
I did what needed to be done: I called teacher meetings, I presided over Kate’s memorial service, I taught 15+ classes a week, I held students as they cried, I wrote lesson plans, I planned professional development and wrote contracts for teachers, I organized insurance policies, I went to therapy appointments, I rain trails with Russell Clive, I drank wine and binge-watched three seasons of Scandal and I even tried to learn tax laws (remember that post?). I filled my hours until I didn’t have to bear the discomfort of my Soul Space. I told myself I was WAITING for life to get back to normal, waiting to feel free again.
And then I read this, about repression of the Soul Space:
“…the more we repress, suppress, procrastinate, or anesthetize, the more resistant we will be toward space. Conversely, the more true space we give ourselves, the less we will repress. And to the extent that we consecrate our spaciousness, intend it for love, point it toward love’s source, space will be merciful. The unpleasantness of space will never be more than we can bear.”
-Gerald May, The Awakened Heart
And my Soul Space demanded to be opened back up and directed toward Love, immediately. What I needed was not more WAITING to feel the right thing or to find the right words to put down on paper about this experience, but more courage to consecrate my Soul Space toward love so that I could heal from it. I needed more Safe Soul Space, more sukha.
In the first post of this series, I introduced the Sanskrit term ‘kha:’ space or spaciousness. Yoga philosophy insists that duhkha (bad space, suffering) is a shared and unavoidable human experience, but yoga teaches us techniques to alter our reactions to suffering so that we can experience a space of relief and sweetness, sukha, even in the midst of suffering.
Meditation master Jack Kornfield writes, “The purpose of spiritual life is not to create some special state of mind. A state of mind is always temporary. The purpose is to work directly with the most primary elements of our body and our mind, to see the way we get trapped by our fears, desires, and anger, and to learn directly our capacity for freedom.”
In the mayhem and the emotional inhale of the last few months, I worked directly with the fear, grief, and anger in my very real and very temporary state of mind.
What I found was this: I only started to heal when I stopped waiting for things to be ‘back to normal’ and just acted like they were. I stopped waiting for things to be funny and just started laughing (loudly, probably obnoxiously). I stopped waiting to feel confident and secure and just started acting like I was a freaking Rock Star. I stopped waiting to feel like I could take a big, deep, FREE breath and just started making space for freedom in my body and my mind. I stopped waiting for the Present Moment to be a perfect one and just started seeing the present moment for what it actually was.
Gerald May, that blessed genius, came to my rescue again by reminding me that, “true space is encountered only with the willingness and courage to experience things just as they are.”
I just had to stop waiting for those love-filled rainbow unicorns to arrive on the scene and just go ahead and consecrate the Present Moment toward love, hope and freedom all on my own. That’s a Soul Space worth not waiting for.
Are you feeling the same way?
Here are 3 Guided Practices to help you encounter and maintain Soul Space today:
I’m always surprised that my shower isn’t clean—it gets ‘washed’ every time I shower, right?
If I’m not diligent with the shower scrubbing (which I’m not) it stays dusty no matter how many times I take a shower.
Studying yoga is similar. It requires attentiveness and daily commitment.
The Yoga Sutras say that studying yoga requires abhyasa, or ‘diligent practice.’ Abhyasa is required because there are a billion gajillion distractions vying for your attention. Identifying your happiness and worth by these distractions leads to confusion and frustration. However, uncovering purusha (your inner Light of awareness) leads to inner contentment. The knowledge of your inner Self requires turning your attention inward on a regular basis.
Do I really have time to do my yoga practice every day? YES.I absolutely have to make time.
Abhyasa is the desire to maintain a committed effort to know yourself at your deepest core and to use your yoga knowledge to heal your life, thought by thought, moment by moment.
It is the recognition that no one else is going to clean your shower: you are the only person who can turn inward, examine your thoughts, and use discernment to choose which thoughts are helpful in your healing process.
When I think about abhyasa, I remember that consistent, focused practice will deepen the connection to my Divine Inner Self. It may happen slowly, like little drops of water filling up a bucket, but eventually I’ve got enough water collected for a foot soak (yay!). Over time, my body, mind, and heart will be clear and healed. This cleansing process benefits myself and everyone who knows me. This inevitable truth makes it a lot easier to get up at 4:45 am and get myself on my meditation mat every morning.
If you already have a regular practice, make it more regular. If you don’t already have a regular practice, carve out some time in your day. Even if it is only 5 minutes, that’s a great place to start.
During this time, turn inward. Sit quietly. Allow the breath to wash away any residue of fatigue, tension, stress or distraction. Make this cleansing process a priority.
A real wood-burning, smoke-producing, utterly-charming fire holds me captive for hours. I’m the kind of person who sits too close the fire: my frontside burning, my backside frigid against the chill of the air, but too intoxicated by the heat to move away. On New Year’s Day sequestered in an Arkansas cabin with my Ironman, I watched solid logs gathered the day before from the rugged hillside turn into powder behind the fireplace grate. In a matter of hours, they transformed completely from substance to ashes. It was beautiful.
January 1, or 2, or 31 is really just another day to the calendar. But we treat every January with unwarranted importance as the one and only time we reflect on the past year and set goals for the upcoming year. This act of reflection on the recent past and looking forward to the near future is, in my eyes, of utmost importance. But it should not be confined to January (even though it’s the perfect way to spend the hours hiding from winter’s unrelenting peril). Instead, transformation, or parinama in Sanskrit, can and should happen every day.
The Yoga Sutras tell us that we are all made of same underlying energy, an indivisible and invisible but powerful energy. A person’s heart is like gold: it can change, re-configure as a new shape, appear in a different form, but its essence remains the same. It endures fire and heat, but it is still gold. Parinama is a process of moving into the fire, confronting the heat of loss, fear, confusion, pain, humility, anger, and injury but retaining your essence of pure, unaltered light. It’s the process of taking a new shape but remaining gold.
According to Social Media, everyone and their mom thought 2016 totally sucked. I thought it was fantastically wild ride—very high highs and very low lows—which sent me headfirst into the heat of transformation (you can read my 2016 round up here.) I definitely got burned a few times. And I probably did some burning (that smoke detector in my new house works well, I assure you), but isn’t a wild and slightly uncomfortable ride totally worth taking, if at the end you step off a new and transformed person?
Parinama: true inner transformation of thoughts, words, actions and habits takes time. And trust. And a willingness to get burned. Transformation, on and off the yoga mat, begins with discomfort but ends with a stronger sense of respect for both yourself and the life you are leading.
The Yoga Sutras tell us that every time we set foot on the yoga mat or have a seat on our meditation cushion is an opportunity for reflection and transformation. Everything in nature changes from moment to moment, day to day, year to year. Today, and every day of this year, set your intention to refine yourself. Take a moment to sit by a fire—you may already be sitting in one if you are reeling from stress, anger, hurt, or fear—and remember that everything is always changing and true reflection will move you forward into true healing. Set your intention to be open to change but remain gold.
At its core, yoga is the journey to unite with our True Selves. It is much beyond sweating in spandex. It is beyond having a perfect Virabradasana stance. It beyond having a high-tech yoga mat. It is a process of remembering our True Essence. Even if only for one hour a day. It is a big deal. (Remember this “no big deal” post?)
The authoritative text of yoga, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, describes the goal of yoga as nothing short of total freedom from suffering and total uniting with the Divine. We can’t do this when we are attached to our ego. We have to move from local (personal consciousness) to nonlocal awareness (community consciousness), which helps us see the bigger picture. And it’s really, really, hard work. And it can feel like a really, really, long journey.
I’ve been studying yoga for a decade and teaching it for over seven years. And I’m nowhere close to being unattached to my ego; I’ve experienced total union with the Divine for an approximate total of 5.8 seconds over the past decade. I’m still on the really, really, really long journey.
According to Dr. Deepak Chopra, “One way to connect with your soul is by consciously asking yourself questions that go to the heart of the human experience.”
Three key questions that bring you into the heart of your human experience are:
The first question, ‘Who Am I?’ is usually answered with our role in relation to other people. We may answer: daughter, wife, boss, father, etc. Or we may identify in terms of positions or possessions: home-owner, assistant (to the) regional manager, middle school art teacher, etc. Or we may identify with our choices: vegetarian, runner, lobbyist, etc.
But can we respond with answers that delve deeper than surface? Our jobs may change, our families may change, our residence will change, our goals and experiences will certainly change over time. What remains? According to Yoga wisdom, It is the Experiencer, or the Inner Witness beyond our ego attachments, which remains. Can we forget who we think we are… in order to come closer to who we really are?
Dr. Chopra illuminates: “The true purpose of yoga is to discover that aspect of your being that can never be lost.”
When you ask the question: “Who am I?” Try to imagine who you are in Silence. You may want to start with this Meditation exercise. Without words. If you were completely alone: without a job, without a deadline, without a phone, without a hobby, without a family: who would you be?
Sit in Meditation. Set a timer for 5 minutes. (Have a pen and paper handy.)
Take 10 steady inhales and exhales to calm your mind.
Breathe without agenda. Silently ask yourself: “who am I?”
Notice the answers. Do not judge. Just notice.
When the timer goes off, take 10 steady inhales and exhales.
Open your eyes and write down your answers.
Repeat for 7 days in a row. Notice how your answers change.
We will work on Question 2 next week…
“We need to forget who we think we are so we can become who we really are.” -Paulo Coelho